Whether you look at him as being a superhero or a monster, the Hulk is quite a compelling character to read about. In modern culture, the comic book portrayal of the Hulk tends to take a back seat to either fond memories of Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby and the never forgotten phrase of, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Or the more recent portrayal in The Avengers movie and the defining phrase of, “That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.” Suddenly many realized, hey there’s a lot more to this character than simply, “Hulk Smash!”
That’s where reading about him in comic books is so much different. The character is constantly changing, constantly evolving, but always breaks down into a question of what makes a man a hero or a monster. When written well, it truly makes you wonder is it Bruce Banner who turns into the Hulk, or is it the Hulk who turns into Bruce Banner. But one simple thing about the Hulk always carries the story, the madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets. What if his anger became so focused that there became no stopping him. That’s where Planet Hulk comes in, it is a story about pushing the Hulk to that brink.
It all starts with the Fantastic Four stopping a rampaging Hulk and calming him down for umpteenth time. The Thing makes an offhand, joking remark to Mister Fantastic about rocketing the Hulk into space that sets the wheels in motion. At this time in the Marvel Universe a group had formed behind the scenes calling themselves the Illuminati. Comprised of Iron Man, Mister Fantastic, Doctor Strange, Black Bolt, Namor, and Professor X, this team voted to send launch the Hulk into space to land on a deserted planet to protect the Earth. (note: Professor X was absent, and Namor voted against the plan and quit the group) And they go through with it launching the Hulk into space.
From there their plan both works and fails. The Hulk is off Earth, with S.H.I.E.L.D. training the She-Hulk as a stand in, though with an ulterior motive. However the ship they sent him in is thrown off course by a wormhole and the Hulk ends up not on a deserted planet, but rather the planet Sakaar, a planet that has a society that is a conglomeration of other races that have been pulled through the same wormhole. He is weakened from the journey, able to be injured, and easily subjugated by the natives with an obedience disc and made to become a Gladiator for the Red King. One thing drives him through the storyline, his anger.
After all his friends have betrayed him, and stranded him in a place where he could be killed. He has no knowledge that they did not intend for him to be on Sakaar, and thus his driving motivation throughout the story becomes a quest for revenge. Along the way he makes a pact with other fellow gladiators, and together over the slain body of one of their fallen they make a pact to become Warbound to each other. Each is in their own way as strong as the Hulk himself prior to departing Earth.
The Red King takes an immediate dislike to Hulk and the Warbound are sent off to die multiple times. Eventually this all leads to a rebellion, led by the Hulk to defeat the Red King, free the slaves and free Sakaar. Now that really leaves out a lot of details I know, but to find those out I’ll suggest that you take the time to read the story. Though I promise there’s at least one cosmic surprise inside.
When all is said and done the Hulk – having defeated the Red King, and brought peace to the planet by uniting it’s cornucopia of inhabitants – is made the king of Sakaar. And throughout the story as he’s constantly challenged throughout he becomes steadily stronger and more angry. Then he takes a wife and she becomes pregnant. He starts to calm down and accept his new home and his new position as its leader. That is until the ship he crash landed in is paraded through the capital city of Sakaar where it has a warp core breach.
The ship explodes killing everyone in the city, including his wife and unborn child, and damaging much of Sakaar. At this point the Hulk becomes pure rage and anger and all he wants is revenge. A revenge that is targeted against the four members of the Illuminati that were responsible for sending him into space. Together with his Warbound they take their stone starship and head for Earth.
It’d been a very long time since I’d read a comic book from a Hulk title. It’s hard when one of your fondest comic reading memories looking back is that of Doc Sampson breaking his hand and arm to knock out the Hulk. But really it was like riding a bicycle to read, and a great way to jump back into the standard character from a comic book perspective (with prior recent experiences being the Ultimate Hulk and Zombie Hulk). Hulk fans who maybe don’t have as much comic book experience may struggle some with this story, but the payoff is grand for what it leads to later (see below). This is pure raw, raging Hulk, and it’s a great story that delivers.
Reading List (approximate reading order):
Fantastic Four: 533 to 535
Amazing Fantasy (vol 2): 15
New Avengers Illuminati Special
The Incredible Hulk (vol 3): 88 to 105
Additional: Planet Hulk Gladiator Guidebook
Next time: World War Hulk
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